After twenty-two bands and three comics over the previous two days, did I have some gas left in the tank for the final day of All Tomorrow’s Parties New York? Of course! Most attendees heeded Warren Zevon’s advice that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. Of the bands on the final day, the ones I was most interested in seeing were bands I’d seen before, but in different incarnations or playing different material. The most radical of these were the first two, the Boredoms and Caribou. The Boredoms have moved far on from their days of skronk/cut-up/spazzcore masters and have embraced percussion as not only their primal sound, but pretty much as a way to channel higher forces. As in 2007 and 2008, they chose the corresponding numbered month of the year for a special performance, in this case Boadrum 9. Augmented by six additional drummers including Zach Hill, Kid Millions, and what looked like to be Dave Nuss, it was truly a religious experience, and I was clearly not the only one swept away with anticipation and final payoff as the people standing next me came from Japan or drove from Michigan specifically for this set. It started out with Eye calling, chanting, raising arms and voices and slowly the drummers came to life, raising their arms and then smashing down with brute force in unison like some terrible beast. Only it wasn’t terrible, it was hugely beautiful. As the tempo solidified, heads started turning away from the stage and towards the back of the room, and the house lights came up to reveal Yojiro Tatekawa drumming away on a full kit, along with the rest of them. Only he was being carried on a litter by eight security guards, and was gently docked onto the stage where he joined the rest of the ensemble. The might at which the drummers played was fairly incredible; I was directly behind Zach Hill and was amazed that I wasn’t covered in sawdust at the end. Eye would provide some counterpart tones by banging his ‘sevena’ (a seven-necked single body guitar) with large rods, to set up a harmonic cloud of clang to go along with the drum cacophony. Amazing stuff, truly goose bump-inducingly powerful.
The theme seemed to be set, drums were the instrument of the day. Over in the room tucked away in the corner bar, Oneida had already started performing at noon, before Boadrum 9, in their self-named ‘Ocropolis,’ a room with gauze hanging down in various sheets, two projectors throwing visual patterns across them and the walls, and a slew of instruments and drum kits. The idea was that music would be continually performed in an improvisational manner, with an ever-revolving cast of people sitting in. Members of Flaming Lips, Boredoms, Hella, Tall Firs and others joined in over the day, and the bits I caught were very cool. Due to covering the other stages, I really couldn’t spend as much time as I’d have liked, but plans are to release the best bits of the day as another installment of the “Thank Your Parents” series that Oneida is doing via Jagjaguwar. I’m looking forward to hearing stuff I missed. This was the wild card of the entire weekend and quite inspired from both a creative thinking and execution aspect.
Following on the drum theme even further, Caribou Vibration Ensemble had two to three drummers as well (depending on rotation), as well as fourteen total people on stage, playing a variety of horns, percussion, keyboards, electronics and/or guitars. The biggest guest names included Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) and living free jazz legend Marshall Allen (Sun Ra Arkestra) but it is fully a collective effort with very little soloing, filled with ebbs and flows, drummers standing on kits while playing, a hushed vocal part with six or so people at the front of the stage, and finally ending with a brief and slyly humorous solo from Allen. A very different rhythmic ride from Boadrum 9, and just as good.
I barely saw any of Birds of Avalon (decent energetic hard rock with a psych edge) or Black Moth Super Rainbow (some guy shrouded in fog and sitting on the stage while moaning into a mic and jabbing buttons while his band built some amorphous structures around him), and totally skipped Hopewell, Menomena and Crystal Castles. The big decision today was went to skip out of Super Furry Animals and head over to get a good spot for Boris, possibly catching more of Ocropolis on the way. While I’m not too enamored of the last two SFA records, their previous work is mostly flawless and I’ve seen them give a great performance in the past. Sadly, this day was not one of them. Listless as could be, they at least started the set out with some good songs (“Slow Life,” “Juxtaposed With U,” “Rings Around The World”) but they played in the most turgid manner possible and normally upbeat front man Gruff Rhys did little to engage the crowd aside from waving some slogans printed out on cardboard. Disappointment of the weekend for me, but it did make it an easier decision to leave the main room and get a decent spot for Boris.
Boris is a band I’m relatively late too (like a lot of others, Pink was my first exposure to them), and though this would be the fifth time seeing them, they typically created set lists around whatever record they had just released. For ATP they announced that they would be playing Boris At Last: Feedbacker and that was gilding the lily, as far as I was concerned. I am a bit of a record collector geek, and the original Japanese pressing is one of the more heinously expensive records I’ve ever purchased. To me, it’s a total statement, a fantastic mix of drone, doom and psychedelic rock that’s ever been committed to tape. And did they ever deliver. Boris’ amp buzz is louder than most band’s efforts at turning up, and people unaware of this record might have been scratching their head at the first twenty or so minutes, a simple repeating pattern against Takeshi’s anguished vocals, slowly building in intensity as the band was swathed in deep fog (I gotta say that Takeshi’s double-necked guitar/bass silhouetted against the smoke cuts a pretty impressive figure). When the payoff hit, massive amounts of fog poured from Atsuo’s pounded on drum kit like it was literally exploding, Wata and Kurihara slicing acerbic guitar lines while Takeshi played a high-register fuzz riff on his bass. Ever the show man, Atsuo bounded from his kit and stood at the edge of the stage, pointing to the crowd before leaping on top of it. This was rock music, delivered in an expert manner, both visually and sonically. Between this set and Boadrum 9, I now know that god speaks Japanese. Really fucking loudly.
No Age and Bob Mould was up next, and was quite good; you could tell from the face-splitting grins that Randy Randall and Dean Spunt were totally gassed to be playing with a punk rock legend, and Mould was having a blast too. It kinda sounded a bit weird to hear Hüsker Dü songs without Greg Norton’s bottom end, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. The set switched between No Age and Hüsker songs, but if there was a ballot I’d have bet a landslide victory for Mould-only songs, since they sounded so good (“Something I Learned Today” and “Makes No Sense At All” especially).
The evening would conclude with the Flaming Lips, their orange-jump suited crew busy readying the various stage props and the costumed go-go dancers huddled at the edges of the stage. Though there was a bit of a delay, it was nothing like the interminable wait that My Bloody Valentine inflicted on the weary ATP crowd last year. I’d not seen the Lips since the Ron Jones era (’95ish) so even though I’d heard the stories of the massive spectacle that the Lips are known for, it was new to me in person. Starting out with a visual of a woman giving birth to the band, they launched into the utterly joyous “Race For The Prize” with confetti flying and Wayne in the plastic hamster ball, rolling across the outstretched hands of the crowd. Balloons, more confetti, balloons filled with confetti, laser pointers focused on a mirror, megaphones…it was a 100% visual and aural feast, but unfortunately Wayne’s totally ignored his pre-Soft Bulletin material. A couple of the new songs sounded pretty heavy and rocked out, with Steven taking vocals on a particularly good song, but in the end it was more spectacle than anything else. Wayne should take a lesson from Boris on how to make a rock show more of a rock show and less of a circus.
Anyway, ATP is never about a single band, it’s about the collective experience, and though I had some reservations about this year’s lineup as compared to last year’s, those fears were unfounded. I put my trust in Barry Hogan and the rest of the ATP organizers to pull together solidly exceptional lineups, and this is one weekend that should be written with Sharpie on every music fan’s calendar.